Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The Basic Fantasy RPG
I haven't really looked over a new OSR game in a while and then I came across this one while wandering around Amazon. My "recommendations" have a whole lot of dungeon-y dragon-y type stuff so I didn't have to wander far. The price is certainly right (it's under $4 as I write this) and with Prime the shipping is free so what the heck. I've read it now and have mixed feelings about it so I thought I would share.
First up it's a pretty complete version of Basic/Expert-style D&D. It's not level capped, it has a fair selection of monsters and magic items and rules for cross country travel, followers, strongholds, etc. There are some odd choices regarding mechanics: race and class are separate but race has very little mechanical impact on a character - it mainly serves to limit class choice. The number of spells per level is ... small, but after looking back at my Cyclopedia's lists it's comparable so it's really only lacking compared to AD&D's lengthy lists. If someone is looking for an inexpensive one-volume B/X style game then Basic Fantasy certainly works.
The thing that bothers me though is that this is not really a new game - like a lot of OSR games. The vast majority of it is B/X D&D with a different editing job and some changes in mechanics for no clear reason. AC is ascending instead of descending, but it uses the old type of saving throws. Race and class are separate but but there are some new restrictions on ability scores and hit points that shift them back to being very close to the old "race as class" approach. Thieves have the same old percentile skills fixed by level but the percentages are off by a few points from the table in the Cyclopedia, and not consistently! Some are higher, some are lower, some by 10% and some by 1%! Why? It boils down to what looks like someone's house rules or personal preferences, not some kind of effort to publish a truly new game with reverence for an old style, and at that point I have to ask why? Why take someone else's house rules for old D&D instead of making and using your own?
My questions aside, it does seem to have resonated with at least a few people. There is a fair amount of support on the website, much of it provided by players and DM's. All of the rules are free there so the only reason to pay for the book is to get a printed copy. The whole system is run as open-source and mainly non-profit, which is commendable enough. The people driving it don't seem to be terribly hung up on touting their own greatness which is refreshing as well.
In the end, I want to like the game but I keep coming back to this: I'm not sure what the point of this one really is. If I like the original, why wouldn't I play the original? This one is basically someone else's house rules, it's not strictly compatible with old adventures due to the mechanical changes, and it leaves out a lot of the later expansions and mechanical refinements. Sure it's simpler than 3E or Pathfinder or 4E but it's not simpler than other old school rules including the originals! It's not terribly challenging to go get a copy of the old D&D Basic or Expert rules if that's what you like. I see 3-4 sets on Ebay right now for $10 or less. The PDF is available on DNDClassics.com for $5! Heck, if you want the uber-original the Cyclopedia PDF is only $9.99! I know the PDF's weren't always available, but eBay's been around for a long time now.
How is this better than B/X D&D? To me, it's not. Heck, If I want tweaked old school D&D then Labyrinth Lord is closer to Moldvay Basic than this if I want "authentic", and its Advanced Edition Companion is a much more comprehensive effort to add in some of the player character options from AD&D. For this particular niche, I don't see myself using it a whole lot.
When would I play this? Maybe if someone was running Basic Fantasy specifically and I was really looking for an old school game, I'd give it a try. I don't really dislike it, I just like those other options better.
Bonus Note: Basic Fantasy is home to the greatest character sheet ever designed:
So ... it's not my cup of tea, but it clearly works for some people and if this particular flavor of D&D got you back into a game then that's cool. I'm going to look at some of the other material out there for it too and I'll post those thoughts here as well.